A Close Look At The Italian F-35A Jets Involved in Advanced “Omnirole” Training In Sardinia

One of the F-35s of the 13° Gruppo/32° Stormo takes off from Decimomannu airbase for a mission over the Sardinian ranges. (All images: Alessandro Caglieri)

We went to Decimomannu airbase to observe the Italian F-35s at work.

Last month, six Italian Air Force F-35As deployed to Decimomannu airbase, in Sardinia, for a 3-week deployment at the local-based RSSTA (Reparto Sperimentale e di Standardizzazione Tiro Aereo – the Air Gunnery Standardization and Experimentation Unit).

The aircraft belong to the 13° Gruppo (Squadron) of the 32° Stormo (Wing), from Amendola, in southeastern Italy, that currently operates nine F-35s (two more Lightning II jets are based in Luke AFB, Arizona, a 12th aircraft is to be delivered from FACO soon) and been declared operational achieving the IOC (Initial Operational Capability) during TLP 18-4, on Nov. 30, 2018.

Six F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) variant aircraft with the 13° Gruppo from Amendola, took part in the 3-week deployment to Deci.

It was the third full-fledged deployment to “Deci” a base that the Italian Lightnings first visited on Oct. 26, 2017, when two F-35s with the 13° Gruppo landed after supporting Capo Teulada’s amphibious landing (as proved by one of the videos published by the Italian MoD on the website dedicated to the JS17 exercise) during an exercise.

During the deployment in February 2019, the Italian stealth jets carried out various types of training activities, night and day, in coordination with the RSSTA and the Poligono Interforze di Salto di Quirra (Joint Range Salto di Quirra). Thanks to its so-called “omnirole” capabilities, which characterize it as a 5th generation platform compared to the multirole ones of previous generations, the aircraft can simultaneously undertake the whole range of tactical activities that required different types of aircraft in the past: during the same sortie, the pilots can train in a wide variety of missions, including air-to-air engagements, PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions) delivery, ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) for data collection and information sharing, CAS (Close Air Support) to land and sea forces; electronic warfare.

The F-35s on the ramp at Deci.

The first deployment took place in March 2018. During the same period, the local-based RSSTA (Reparto Sperimentale e di Standardizzazione Tiro Aereo – the Air Gunnery Standardization and Experimentation Unit) hosted also T-339 (MB.339), T-346 (M-346) and A-11 (AMX) jets belonging to the ItAF units involved in the periodical firing activities in the Sardinian range.

One of the peculiarities of Decimomannu is the “patographs” of the HRS (Hydrant Refuelling System) with 51 refueling points directly installed on the apron.
One of the F-35 prepares to taxi. The aircraft wears the 100th anniversary markings on the left tail.

The photos you can find in this post were taken during the deployment by The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Caglieri. Interestingly, during the deployment to Deci, the F-35s carried out their peculiar short take-offs followed by steep climbs: a standard procedure that also helps reducing the noise generated by the 5th generation aircraft on departure.

The F-35 performing a steep climb for noise abatement.
The F-35 climbing fast after rotation.

The Italian Air Force Lightning II aircraft were the first in Europe to declare IOC and the activities carried out in the Sardinian ranges are aimed at achieving FOC (Full Operational Capability). Next month, the ItAF F-35s will also take part in Ex. Iniochos 2019 in Greece.

Two big articles from this Author on the Italian Air Force F-35 operations will be published in RID Aprile 2019 and Air Forces Monthly June 2019 magazines.

On Mar. 14, the Italian MoD approved the pending bills for the F-35s (there was clamor following the news that Italy had not paid some 389M Euro in bills from 2018 related to the Joint Strike Fighters already delivered) but the Ministry Elisabetta Trenta has again affirmed the overall number of aircraft procured by the Italian Air Force and Navy may be reviewed. This is not the first time the Government speaks about slowing down or cutting the numbers. The previous day, ItAF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Alberto Rosso, told Italy’s parliament on Tuesday that he felt “strongly concerned about the uncertainty” affecting the F-35 program in Italy “and the eventual hypothesis of a drop in numbers” or orders.

Therefore, it’s not clear how many aircraft will the Italians eventually get.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.